Urban Transportation:

Challenges to Widespread Deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems

RCED-97-74: Published: Feb 27, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program, focusing on: (1) how DOT has changed the focus of the ITS program since Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA); (2) progress in deploying integrated ITS and the key factors affecting deployment, including the status of the ITS national architecture (the framework which identifies the components of an integrated ITS) and technical standards; and (3) ways in which the federal government can facilitate the deployment of ITS in urban areas.

GAO noted that: (1) DOT's long-term goal for the ITS program, the deployment of integrated ITS, has not changed since Congress passed ISTEA; (2) however, DOT has recently changed the program's short-term focus to include a greater emphasis on deploying ITS technologies rather than simply conducting research and operations tests; (3) its new focus emphasizes the deployments of integrated intelligent transportation technologies in selected urban areas, outreach and training to overcome the barriers to deployment, and a continuing research program to develop long-term intelligent transportation applications; (4) although the program envisioned the widespread deployment of integrated, multimodal ITS, this vision has not been realized; (5) in part, the limited deployment of ITS is the result of the natural evolution of the program; (6) the national architecture for the systems was not completed until July 1996, and a 5-year effort to develop standards is planned for completion in 2001; (7) in addition, the widespread deployment of ITS faces several significant obstacles; (8) these include a lack of technical knowledge and expertise among the state and local officials who will deploy the systems, a lack of quantitative data proving the systems' cost-effectiveness in solving transportation problems, and a lack of funds; (9) the federal government can take programmatic and financial actions to promote the deployment of ITS; (10) the programmatic actions include providing technical assistance and training to state and local officials, disseminating information on the costs and benefits of intelligent transportation efforts, and completing the development of the technical standards in a timely manner; (11) while officials from all 10 urban areas GAO contacted stated that ITS are a potentially useful tool in solving transportation problems, there was a wide variety of opinions on the appropriate federal role for funding the systems' deployment; (12) six urban areas stated that a large-scale federal deployment program would be necessary to achieve widespread deployment; (13) in contrast, the remaining four opposed a large-scale program because it would limit local flexibility and would encourage the deployment of ITS where other, possibly more cost-effective efforts could be undertaken; (14) officials from 5 of the 10 urban areas also stated that a smaller-scale federal seed program could also be effective in fostering deployment; and (15) finally, officials from 9 of the 10 areas stated that federal financial assistance is needed to maintain deployed intelligent transportation technologies.

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